An Old Friend, and Lent

Today I did my normal job, talked through the claim process with a lady who hit a pig, totaled vehicles and paid out thousands of dollars for damage to vehicles that are only vehicles, and yet represent something much more to my clients.

I worked on the minutes of our annual parish meeting, and watched anxiously for my column to appear on the Tribune’s website. And a thousand million little tasks, the kinds that we do all the time and don’t even notice until we sit down and try to tally them up.

I sort of successfully adulted.

The house is quiet now, hospice dog has laid down and is sleeping, dreaming a puppy dream where he runs it doesn’t hurt, where he could go forever and can smell a lake and runs faster, desperate to plunge his webbed feet into water that is the same pink as the sun setting in the sky.

Casey is at work and the house is warm, the breath of my children seeming to form a light fog around the ceiling, filled with their own dreams,  I am thinking about community.

A dear friend of mine just left, and I am turning over in my head our hours together, and how nothing has changed. We have known each other for about 18 years, which is a long time when you think people the same age as you are old. Imagine us, young and beautiful, at times terrifying in our recklessness, so sure in our own immortality. We had the power to devastate and we knew it.

We traded do you remembers, do you remember how you could sit home all night and be creeped out alone or come and sit with me at the hotel where we both worked and we could be creeped out together and watch The Golden Girls and Mad About You? Nervous in a building with more than a hundred rooms, with two 19 year girls in charge, and only a handful of  cars in the parking lot as the wind whipped in off the lake, moaned around the eaves and whispered at the windows.

Do you remember when the decade turned, how we watched the count down to 2000 on a TV in the lobby and how we all celebrated after the briefest pause, casting about ourselves to see if we felt different, if the world had irrevocably changed.

Do you remember this person, that person, how those connections relate in the here and the now.

We talked about kids and men and couches that smell like dogs and kitty fever, which is the wanting of a kitty, to be clear.

I have vastly expanded my community in the four years that I have been “home”. I’ve gone from working with a group of great people in an office, but still people who could rarely draw me out after work, with spending all of my nights and days on a two acre lot south of Traverse City with my husband and our children, to this vast network; a hometown network.

I have all of the people that I love at St. John’s, I have my immediate family and in-laws, I still have those office folks and we trade pictures of our cats via email and we laugh together on the phone. I have my dear friend Kelly and our exchanges and our time getting to know each other, to trust each other, the way this new friendship blooms even when I want to hide, even when I am afraid of the sun.

And I have this other friend too, this friend who knows me in a way that even my husband cannot. Casey didn’t know me when I knew this friend, not for the first few years anyway. Old friends are like siblings, they’ve seen you at your very worst and they still love you. They remember, but they love you. My new-ish community gets a different version than the girl that I was at 18, 19, 20 and 21.

She and I are apart from the other worlds that we live in now, held strangely in the past, slips of girls believing we were women, making all the worst decisions over and again. I don’t recall ever cooking when we lived together and am not honestly sure what we ate.  I don’t remember paying bills though I’m sure we did as the lights and the water were usually on.

I think sometimes people approach Lent and they approach it in one of two ways, in a foreboding, a dread at approaching the altar and having to sort of relive and then to cast off all of these things they think they’ve done. And they approach Lent in a way that is almost flippant, just another season, another liturgy, feeling that surely their God isn’t ever angry, doesn’t ever punish or bless, that when Christ died on the cross it somehow wasn’t for them.

What if we went into Lent as if greeting an old friend, the kind who  just comes in and knows she doesn’t need to be invited? The one who will call your younger child peanut and tease the older one about her mop of hair. What if we waited for that person to come while the day turned to dark, what if when Lent walked in the door we embraced as it as the old friend it is? The season that knows us to our very cores, and calls us to a bit of examination, a bit of shame, a lot of surrender?

We have the familiar speech patterns, the kryries like the names of people she and I once knew.

We have the bit of shame, and we have the knowing that Lent (Jesus) knows us like an old friend, an old shirt, and that it loves and wears us anyway.

And we have the knowing that we are ok, that through all of the shenanigans we are still here, and she is, and Lent is too, we are saved, caught and cradled, but that this time of remembrance must be received to realize that wide, wide grace. Its like she walked into my garage, packed with an SUV and bikes and had this memory book in her hands and it was full of photos and old VHS videos and she knew that I knew what was in the book, we didn’t really need to open it.

Open your hands and see how broken and terrible the world is, look upon the smoking ruins of the life you thought you would live. The trick here is to realize your own culpability. Once we pass about 18 there isn’t much we can rightfully blame on our parents. Embrace the ways that you have failed, pitch your tent in your self imposed exile over looking a bright city, strike flint and light a fire, sing a song, and wait, we are coming.

My gypsy band and I are just over the next hill, coming toward you in barrel shaped wagons pulled by horses that have bells on their bridles. You’ll know us by our bright clothes, by our loud enthusiasm, as you realize that you have forgotten us but that we have been here all along. We bring such good news, but a memory book too.

Lent is not a time to hide, it is not a time to deny. Lent is a time to embrace. A time to embrace the people that we used to be and the people we used to know, a time to hold close our communities and our friends, but to hold the ones who know us the best even closer. Jesus sees, and I think he understands, and I know he forgives.

And I know the grace is wide, just like the river than runs through that celestial campground, the one that looks only like the river that you know, and so is different for every person. The river that symbolizes your own, my own, baptismal vows, the ones we emerged from at different stages in our lives, skirts dripping, and vision suddenly changed.

Lent is an old friend, one that knows the things you would confess, one that knows the struggle, this isn’t her first rodeo, she doesn’t take any shit.

See her that way, embrace this period of being inside of a God who knows you fully as you cry out for mercy in the face of that knowledge, live in the hope and the good news that mercy will bring.

I love you so much.

And it is so cold outside, the Easter Vigil seems so far off.

We will arrive though, suddenly, haltingly, we will make our way down to that prayer garden and kindle our new fire, our new determination and defiance of this world and all of the heartbreak that it offers.

I’ll see you there, and I’ll see you all the times between, because that is what friends do, we see each other, and we love each other anyway.

There is no hiding.

And that is ok.

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